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MANILA, Philippines – In the Senate debates on the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III attempted to block the proposed hundreds of millions in confidential funds under the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) – led by Vice President Sara Duterte – as well as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
It would set a bad precedent if these agencies are allowed to keep funds of this nature, which are traditionally reserved for law enforcement and security-related offices, he said.
Pimentel noted the proposed confidential and intelligence funds for each: P500 million for the OVP, P150 million for the DepEd, and P19.2 million for the OSG. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s solicitor general is Menardo Guevarra, the justice secretary of former president Rodrigo Duterte.
The Senate minority leader said research conducted by his office showed these agencies did not have confidential funds “in our modern memory.”
“Siguro, Mr. President, puwedeng pakiusapan ang mga ito na huwag nang umpisahan ‘yung practice. Through how many years, wala naman silang confidential funds, umpisahan nila ‘yung bagong practice. Mahirap na pong pigilan ‘yan pag naumpisahan na,” said Pimentel.
(Perhaps, Mr. President, we can request these agencies to not start the practice. Through how many years, they did not have confidential funds, and then they start this new practice. It will be difficult to stop once this starts.)
Angara responded that these agencies “all at one point in their existence” had confidential funds in a few millions, and that since budgets grow every year, the amount from decades ago are “perhaps on the same level” as they are proposed now.
“But that’s difficult, because we should have a specific reason why we are giving confidential and intelligence funds…. Well, at any rate, if it used to be P5 million, once upon a time 10 years ago, as confidential fund of the OVP, then it’s now P500 million, so times 100, I do not believe the budget grew by 100 [times],” said Pimentel.
Pimentel emphasized that confidential and intelligence funds should stay with security-related agencies. “Bring the amounts to items which are needed by our people,” he said.
Vice President Duterte had earlier defended the need for millions in confidential funds for the security and surveillance of sexual grooming of students, recruitment of students for terrorism and violent extremism, and drug use of DepEd personnel.
Before the House of Representatives approved the P5.268-trillion proposed 2023 budget, its appropriations committee swiftly terminated the deliberations on the OVP’s P2.92-billion budget for 2023. It is a three-fold increase from the OVP’s P702-million budget in 2022.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros earlier asked the DepEd to consider realigning its proposed P150-million confidential fund for 2023 to the indigenous peoples’ education program. – Rappler.com